1 TIMOTHY – SERIES : NR 8
1 Timothy 5: 1 – 16
Theme : Reflecting God’s holiness
To understand chapter 5 properly, one should keep in mind the point of reference that was set out earlier in the letter, namely that the church of Christ is the household of God. It is a very important concept. It is a family concept.
Within a household, there are different groups under one roof. There are fathers, mothers, youngsters, brothers, sisters, grandparents.
In the household of the living God, there are the elderly, younger people, widows, slaves, etc. Of different standing and age groups.
Timothy was still young, but officially he had to behave towards ALL the groups within the Lord’s household to the glory of the Lord. Yes, as a servant of Christ and representative of the Apostle Paul.
Part of Timothy’s official work as Gospel-servant is also to exhort and admonish in the Name of the Lord. It is part of the Gospel message because the Lord built the grace of the Gospel into admonishment. Hear this: The GRACE of the Good News is built into the ADMONISHMENT. They are issues that do not exclude but include each other. Reprimand must lead to repentance and reparation and a deeper relationship with the Lord.
One can see this principle throughout the OT – particularly how the reprimands of the prophets always had the welfare of the Lord’s nation in mind.
Although Timothy had the authority to admonish and instruct, he must not approach people harshly and rather approach them with a gentle attitude – with humility as it says in 1 Peter 5:5.
He must approach older men as if they were his father, and the younger men as if they were his brothers. The love of a child and brother, therefore.
Older women he has to approach as if they were his mother, and younger women as if they were his sisters. The Apostle adds WITH ABSOLUTE PURITY concerning the younger women. Timothy had to be extra careful concerning the younger women – knowing that the enemy will be on the lookout to create a stumbling block.
In general, these two verses emanate beauty and splendor – something of the Lord himself which is reflected when things in the church are run correctly under the kingship of the Lord Jesus.
Now down to verses 3-4…
The Apostle differentiates between two kinds of widows in the church at Ephesus. A widow is someone who is left behind on her own, but some are without the support of family while others do have support.
The first mentioned group must actively be helped and cared for by the church. In Mark 7:9-13 Jesus clearly commanded that this type of widow must receive material support. That is in obedience to the 5th commandment. God is the judge of the widow (Ps 68:6). He is standing up for their rights – particularly because in the society of that time they were the ones who were most neglected and unprotected. The Lord DESPISES injustice and He hates exploitation. He is always FOR the protection of the vulnerable. In James 1:27 we read that even looking after orphans and widows in their distress is one of the attributes of the Christian faith! That is how serious the Lord God is about this matter.
No wonder then that the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to not only care for the widows in the church of Ephesus but ALSO to see that they are treated with honor and respect. That is so like the heartbeat of the Lord!
In the case of widows who do have family and support, it is – according to apostolic instruction – the duty of the children – if they have come to faith and repentance and are living with the Lord – to care for those widows. Once more in obedience to the 5th commandment. The Lord demands it from them in His Word. It is His explicit will. Not the church, but the family has the initial responsibility towards such a widow.
It is not only a question of duty, but it is in gratitude for the Lord Jesus Christ’s cross-salvation. The entire life of a true Christian though is in the light of gratitude and nothing else. Obedience to God is not a duty, but the result of gratitude and wonder.
These days we see preachers who are wanting to know nothing about OBEDIENCE because they say that it opens the door to merit religion. You are obedient so God can reward you. You try to deserve His favor. No, they say, you live only as Christian by believing that you have been made righteous with God for time immemorial on the cross of Golgotha. And as you believe, so His Spirit shall work in you and your life will fall into step with His will.
As always, error is mixed in with the truth – that is why it sounds so inviting.
The truth is: Yes, the Christian-believer is indeed 100% made righteous by Jesus’s death on the cross, and that fact can only be believed/trusted. That is the truth.
What is sometimes concealed, is that this made-righteous-with-God-by-grace-alone-and-without-merit produces the fruit of gratitude and that is active obedience. NOT to retain or deserve your righteousness-with-God, but because the reborn heart of the saved person starts to love God and wants to do His will. And one of those is mentioned in verses 3-4: Giving proper recognition to widows and those who are in need.
Next verses 5-7..
To the Apostle Paul (and therefore to the Lord through him) it is important that people who confess the Lord Jesus to be Saviour – church members, therefore – will live according to standards set by the Word of God. Blameless, he says. With that, he does not mean sinlessly perfect, but true to the Gospel message and the apostolic teaching.
To that end, the preacher – in this case Timothy – must continuously keep on and on instructing the people in what he had seen and learned from Paul. Impress and enjoin – without giving up. A faithful minister should do THAT tirelessly and continuously. And the church must EXPECT him to do it. Because not all professing Christians ARE necessarily professing Christians – or visibly LIVE up to their convictions as Christians.
Take the widows – to whom the previous verses referred – as an example. Meaning widows who are church members and who do not have a family to take care of them and who are exploited by society and therefore in need to be considered for material assistance from the church.
Some of them – after their husbands have died and they were left behind quite alone – react to their loss by turning back to the world and to living like the unsaved.
Others again SHOW that the Lord is their first love. Their lives testify to that.
Some, therefore, process their crises and loss by turning AWAY from the Word TO licentiousness and abandonment to a worldly lifestyle and sensual pleasure. Perhaps they go into an unmarried cohabitation situation with a man – despite the example, it is to their children and grandchildren.
SUCH a widow, such a person, is dead even while she lives. Physically they are alive, but dead spiritually – as Rev 3:1 says. She cannot lay claim on care from the church.
Other widows deal with their crises in a way that SHOW that they are reborn Christians. They are not members of the church in name only, but they truly are!
Often it is times of crisis that show where a person finds himself spiritually. This second group of widows, says the Apostle, cast themselves totally upon the Lord because from Him alone is all her hope. She makes prayer her breath of life – whether it is day or night. SUCH a person is physically alive AND she also truly LIVES for eternity – she has discovered the true life – which is eternal. Crises and loss notwithstanding.
Now verse 8…
The PRINCIPLE in the previous verses is therefore that a family is a unit, wherein the one must take care of the other. Caring for the widows is an example of that.
But in verse 8 Paul is more emphatic! Much more emphatic. He is saying: If a man does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he is not in any way a saved in Christ person. Such a man’s confession of faith is meaningless. It is dead, whatever the pretense might be. James underlined it in James 2: 14-17 where he states outright that faith without DEEDS is dead. And James is referring precisely to the caring of those in need.
A man who is neglectful regarding his family is doing something that the pagans do not even do. Even total pagans who know nothing of the Gospel message, obey the call of love and respect for parents and know to take care of their families. The professing Christian – who neglects to do that – is, therefore, worse than the pagan.
It is a terrible pronouncement to make, but the Apostle speaks with God’s Word in his mouth.
If we compare 1 Cor 5:1 with this, it is clear that such a neglectful man – who confesses that he is saved in Christ – is an object for church discipline. The issue is crystal clear: Where the Spirit of the Lord has brought a change in someone’s life, there SHALL be visible fruit. The same as a body that breathes is alive – the fruit of a tree always speaks the truth about what kind of tree it is.
Verses 9-10 next…
In those days, widows – who have reached a certain age and have lived a godly life – delivered a specific service in the church. We do not know specifically WHAT it was and it does not look as if it was as elder or deacon, but there was a list of serving widows and there were certain stipulations they had to conform to.
Paul measures godliness to certain clear attributes. It is not possible to be godly without it becoming visible for other people to see. Timothy had to determine WHERE these attributes were visible and then place THOSE widows on the service list.
The earliest church lived in a pagan environment and under hostile authorities, and Christians were exposed to all kinds of oppression and therefore were dependent upon fellow believers. That created an opportunity for widows to offer assistance.
The Apostle wanted to be sure that those who serve were absolutely devoted to Christ and His work. That was why it would be preferred not to marry so that their attention was not drawn away from 100% service to Christ. That is why he set the age restriction.
Widows who were faithful to their husbands and lived morally pure and gave their children a good upbringing may be put on the list. They also had to be known for their hospitality and humble acts of charity.
The Apostle is not here giving instructions about what has still to be done today – for example, foot-washing and accommodation for strangers. That was the circumstances in those days. But the principles are still the same namely godliness that is visible in acts of charity and the assertion of a spiritual standard.
We see therefore in these two verses very clearly how holy the Lord is, because these standards reflect Christ himself. Whoever is IN HIM, shall start to live a new life by the Spirit – DIFFERENT to the way an unsaved person thinks and behaves. And in Christ’s church, it must be visible to the outside.
It is just breathtaking to see how the head of the living God works and how His heart beats and then to wish that mine would work like that too.
The Gospel message is a matter of all or nothing. If a Christian is committed to being of service to the church of Christ, nothing must make him/her half-hearted.
The Apostle’s point of departure is that a CHRISTIAN-widow who remains unmarried shall give EVERYTHING in devotion to the Lord and His church. Because she is a Christ-believer, she SHALL do it. She shall keep her promise to the Lord to serve in that way. But should she get married again, her interests may be divided and she may begin to neglect the Lord’s work. That is the Apostle’s concern. And that is why he does not want widows who are under 60 years of age on the list of particular service-work in the church. Because then they could get married and start to work half-heartedly. At that time 60 years was old and the chances of marriage very slight.
Verses 11-12 does NOT mean that widows (or anyone) who marries, would turn aside from Christ and break their faith in Him. He is not OPPOSING marriage as such. Earlier in the letter, he rightly said that it is the false preachers who are forbidding people to get married.
No, we must understand these verses in the light of a passage like 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 where Paul says that the unmarried Christian-believer’s interest is less divided than that of the married one. The unmarried can devote his/her full attention to the Lord, but the married person’s interests are divided. That is the danger he is warning against.
The same is valid for verses 11-12. Widows who are in special service in the churches of that time, made a promise before the Lord and the Apostle wanted it to remain their priority. Because that is how the heartbeat of the Lord works. He wants His people all to Himself as James 4:5 puts it. And His Spirit is so powerfully at work in a believer’s life, that such a person wants to give everything.
In closing verses 13-15…
To summarise: In the earliest churches widows over the age of 60 years could do special service-work and they had to take a pledge of faithfulness for it. Widows UNDER 60 years of age were not used since they could perhaps remarry and then their interests are divided.
But there was another reason: The charity work that widows did, involved house-to-house visits. AND that could lead to them neglecting their duties at home and walking around like people who have nothing to do and wasting time and getting involved in other people’s business. That would detract from the cause of the Gospel message and play into Satan’s hand.
Inside the pagan and hostile environment wherein these churches often lived, there were always those who were on the lookout for an occasion to slander the church of the Lord. Satan himself was the inventor thereof.
The Apostle was aware of a couple of young widows in Ephesus who were already caught in the devil’s snare. It was, therefore, safer – for the cause of the Gospel message – that the names of younger widows are NOT put on the list of serving widows.
But that does not mean that they do not have a purpose in life and that they cannot fulfill a divine calling. They could marry again – with a true Christ-believing man – according to the instruction in 1 Cor 7:39. They may have children again and bring up a God-fearing family. In that way, they can prevent slander to be spread and for the devil to triumph.
Although we do not have lists of widows to serve these days, we can learn so much from these verses.
We learn how important discipline is to God. Personally and in the church. We learn how important a holy lifestyle is to Him. And how REAL the struggle is between light and darkness. And how important our testimony is to the outside. Christians do not live on an island. We also learn how careful we must behave, and to be vigilant against indifference.
Translated by Marthie Wilson